JANUARY 24, 2011 VOLUME 18 NUMBER 3
Last week we wrote about different types of trusts you might have encountered, and tried to explain some of the generic terms, differences among and between types, and likely settings where a given type of trust might be appropriate. We wrote about spendthrift trusts, bypass trusts, special needs trusts and the difference between revocable and irrevocable trusts. Let's see if we can clear up some of the confusion over less-common trust names.
Crummey trusts. In 1962 Californian Dr. Clifford Crummey created a trust for the benefit of his four children, who then ranged in age from 11 to 22. He was trying to address a problem with estate tax law: he could give the money to his children outright (and then worry about how they spent it) or put it in trust for them to protect it (but then not get it out of his own estate for estate tax purposes). His clever idea: put the money in a trust for each kid's benefit, but give that child the right to withdraw his "gift" from the trust until the end of the year. When they didn't exercise that right (hey -- the youngest was only 11, and even the oldest would understand that withdrawing his money might affect future gifts) it would lapse, and the gift would be completed but stay in trust.
The Internal Revenue Service thought it was a trick, and they argued that Dr. Crummey and his wife had not made gifts at all. The IRS lost that argument, and the "Crummey" trust was born, in a 1968 decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. If you'd like to read the actual decision in Crummey v. Commissioner you may -- but we warn you that it will be interesting to only a few diehards, most of them lawyers or accountants.
For nearly a half-century, then, the Crummey trust has been a primary tool in the estate planner's toolbox. The trusts have morphed over time -- now they are often used to purchase life insurance (and may be called Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts, or ILITs). The length of time for a beneficiary to withdraw the funds has been shortened in most cases -- often to a month and sometimes even less. Some practitioners even give the withdrawal right to people other than the primary trust beneficiary. The Crummey trust in each case is an irrevocable trust intended to get a gift out of the donor's estate for tax purposes but into a trust to control the use of the money after the gift is completed. With the present high gift tax exemption in federal law ($5 million for 2011 and 2012) the use of Crummey trusts will probably diminish appreciably.
Generation-Skipping trusts. In the simplest sense, a GST (practitioners love acronyms) is any trust that continues for more than one generation of beneficiaries. The "current" generation, if you will, might or might not have the right to receive income, or access to principal, of the trust -- but it will continue until at least the death of that current generation representative.
GSTs are often constructed to skip multiple generations. The model for the maintenance of accumulated family wealth is usually the Rockefeller family -- some of the trusts established by John D. Rockefeller before his 1937 death and valued collectively at over $1.4 billion at the time -- are still chugging along for the benefit of his descendants.
Because of concerns about the accumulation of family wealth, and the avoidance of estate taxes in multiple generations by the use of such trusts, the federal government in 1976 introduced a new GST taxation scheme. More recent changes in the GST tax have driven the types, terms and use of GSTs. The GST tax is very high, but only applies (as of 2011 -- the rules may change in two years or thereafter) to "skips" of over $5 million. Very elaborate GSTs are sometimes marketed as Dynasty trusts. One common problem in addition to tax issues: the common-law "Rule Against Perpetuities" may make it difficult to extend trusts for multiple generations. In Arizona it is now at least theoretically possible to extend a trust over more than 500 years without facing problems with the Rule. That is a sobering thought when you consider that 500 years ago the land that was to become Arizona was all but unknown to ancestors of the Europeans, Asians, Africans and even many Native Americans who live here now.
QTIP trusts. QTIP stands for "Qualified Terminable Interest Property." Does that explain the trust type? Well, not quite.
In very general terms, a QTIP trust is probably designed for one narrow purpose. It permits a wealthy spouse to leave property for the benefit of a less-well-off surviving spouse without consuming the deceased spouse's full estate tax exemption amount. In other words: if you were worth, say, $10 million dollars in 2009, when the estate tax exemption was at $3.5 million, you might have left $3.5 million to your adult children from your first marriage and most of the rest of your property in a QTIP trust for your second husband (or wife). That way your estate would pay no estate tax, and the tax would be due on the death of the surviving spouse. Since he (or she) had no property in our example, that means that his (or her) $3.5 million exemption would get used on your property first, and only the excess would be subject to taxation as it passed to your children from the first marriage.
As you can see, it is getting harder and harder to make a QTIP trust a good planning opportunity, except for extremely large estates with very high disparity in net worth between the spouses. But the QTIP trust isn't dead yet -- uncertainty about the federal estate tax, continued state estate taxes in some states (but not Arizona) and inertia preventing modification of older estate plans will all contribute to keeping the QTIP alive for a few more years, at least.
We don't know about you, but we're exhausted. Maybe we'll tackle some more trust types on another day. Suggestions? Do you want to know about QDoTs (sometimes called QDTs or QDOTs)? QDisTs (Qualified Disability Trusts)? Cristofani Trusts? Just ask, and we'll take a run at them.